Solicitors representing the families of residents who died at a Skye care home have called for its former operator to be more transparent in its handling of coronavirus outbreaks.
A total of 10 deaths were recorded in May at the Home Farm Care Home, which was run by HC-One before being bought by NHS Highland in a move financed by the Scottish Government.
In a new outbreak during the last month at the firm’s Redmill Care Home in East Whitburn, West Lothian, 14 people had died as of Friday.
A further 35 residents and 20 staff members at Redmill have been confirmed as positive cases.
Pamela Rodgers, associate at PBW Law, which is representing multiple families of Home Farm residents, described the latest outbreak as “history repeating itself”.
She said: “It is deeply troubling that after the tragic deaths at the HC-One-operated care home on the Isle of Skye that we are once again seeing such a distressing situation in West Lothian at a home run by the same operator.
“While families were advised that all necessary measures were being taken to protect their loved ones, in actual fact HC-One refused offers made by NHS Highland to step in and clean the home in an effort to improve ‘unsatisfactory’ levels of cleanliness.
“The Care Inspectorate report published in May on HC-One’s standards was damning and highlighted the lack of transparency exhibited by staff at Home Farm.
“Sadly, it appears history is repeating itself with this heartbreaking situation at Redmill Care Home.”
A total of 30 residents and 29 staff tested positive for Covid-19 during the May outbreak at Home Farm.
NHS Lothian is leading an investigation into Redmill and another outbreak at Milford House Care Home in Edinburgh.
When asked about the situation at the Scottish Government’s coronavirus briefing on Monday, Health Secretary Jeane Freeman said: “Both the provider HC-One and the staff are engaging very constructively and positively with NHS Lothian.
“As the First Minister says, the Care Inspectorate takes decisions about where it thinks it needs to intervene or where it wants to and thinks it needs to provide additional support.
“But it also monitors – including with Health Protection Scotland and Health Improvement Scotland – the work in care homes to ensure that they are as supported as they can be to have the levels of infection prevention and control that we need them to have.”
Neil Findlay, Scottish Labour MSP for Lothian, has repeatedly called for an urgent Care Inspectorate investigation at Redmill in the last few weeks.
Ms Rodgers echoed the call, adding: “Recent statements from HC-One on this outbreak have shown greater concern for protecting the HC-One leadership team than for disclosing how residents are being cared for and shielded from this dreadful virus.
“Little detail has been forthcoming as to whether or how infection control measures are being implemented.
“The severity of the outbreak raises grave concerns with the number of deaths now surpassing those at Home Farm, the latter having been the subject of forced intervention by NHS Highland.”
She added: “Their public comments do little to reassure the families we represent – nor the families of thousands of HC-One residents across the UK – that this company is in control of the situation or have learned anything from what happened on the Isle of Skye.
“Care home companies should understand that at a time when families are being prevented from visiting loved ones, it is causing even more distress to encounter a basic lack of transparency over care standards from many operators.”
A spokeswoman for HC-One said: “We have engaged openly and regularly with the Care Inspectorate, NHS, local authorities, local politicians and families connected to all our homes throughout the past seven months of the coronavirus pandemic.
“We also know how detailed and robust our current Covid-19 protection plans are and how tirelessly colleagues at every level of the organisation are working to protect our homes and our residents during this pandemic.
“We have long said that the only way to keep care homes safe is to reduce the rate of infection in the communities they serve.
“Redmill, like many of our homes, is located in an area with one of the highest rates of community infection which makes our work, and that of our front-line teams, far harder.
“If PBW Law would like to discuss the work we’re doing, we suggest they contact us directly rather than through the media.”